Alan Lomax

World Library of Folk and Primitive Music, Vol. 7: India

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The producers at Rounder Records deserve highest praise for reissuing a body of recordings that document and preserve musical traditions from all over the world. In 1949, Alan Lomax obtained from Goddard Lieberson, the president of Columbia Records, enough financial backing to initiate a global research project involving a number of the most knowledgeable musicologists alive at that time. The end result is now known as the World Library of Folk and Primitive Music, and Rounder's stated intention is for the series to include more than 150 volumes. When Lomax set out to document the music of India he wisely chose Alain DaniƩlou as recorder, photographer and editor for this installment of the World Library. DaniƩlou's documentation took place between 1950 and 1958. This edition contains meticulous, informative liner notes that place each recording in geographic, historic and cultural context. The instruments encountered throughout India are famously diverse and endlessly fascinating. Examples heard here are the double-reed sahnai or musette; an end-blown bamboo flute known as the tippera; the Indian harmonium; the sruti peti or hand-pumped reed drone, various members or relatives of the lute family (dotar, vina, ekatara, sarangi and tambura) as well as the svaramandala or 40-stringed trapezoidal zither (here at one point played using a stone or hard object resulting in tones that are not too different from the North American slide guitar). Percussion instruments predominate. The roster of drums, gongs, cymbals and wooden clappers is colorful and deserving of more textual space than this review will allow. Nine of these performances feature the human voice. Singers include a group of Ahir cowherds, a "syncretistic mystic cult of wandering minstrels" known as the Bauls, and the aboriginal Gonds, a tribe said to have originated in Africa, Australia and/or New Guinea; once displaced by invading Aryans, they still live mainly in mountainous forests. The songs themselves are marvelously varied. There is an ecstatic Muslim qawwali of love and spiritual devotion sung in Urdu; songs honoring Krishna the Lover and Krishna the Hero, as well as a Hindi bhajan describing Siva sipping a beverage made from hashish while embracing the white/yellow goddess Gauri. This collection also contains examples of a classical sacred dance drama known as the "Kathakali" or story play; sung in Malayalam, this form may be traced back to a devotional or bhakti tradition developed during the Portuguese occupation of Kerala during the 16th century. Perhaps the most arresting imagery is conjured by a group of Madras fishermen who sing, in Tamil, an Invocation to the Fish-Eyed Goddess Minaksi. Each of the 18 musical examples on this well-researched collection offers a glimpse into a different facet of India's richly diverse blend of cultures, customs and beliefs.

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